July 19, 2013 6:55 pm

In brief

Perfect, by Rachel Joyce, Doubleday, RRP£14.99, 368 pages

 

Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry , won both commercial success and wide critical acclaim (it was longlisted for the Man Booker prize). She may just repeat the trick with Perfect, a mixture of comedy and drama in much the same vein.

The narrative opens in 1972: 11-year-old Byron is told by schoolmate James that two leap seconds are to be added to time. Byron blames this temporal tinkering when his mother, Diana, knocks a girl off her bike while driving through a council estate. The girl seems unhurt but her family won’t let the matter drop, and Diana falls prey to anxiety. The consequences pursue both Byron and James into later life.

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Joyce’s satire on class difference is a little simplistic (Byron’s family is caught between middle-class snobs and grasping proles) but the depiction of Diana’s mental deterioration is movingly done. Perfect it isn’t but this is a novel with the capacity to both surprise and charm.

. . .

Time On My Hands, by Giorgio Vasta, translated by Jonathan Hunt, Faber, RRP£12.99, 300 pages

 

In the long hot summer of 1978, Italy is terrorised by political extremists. Three Sicilian boys come to admire the militants – particularly the leftwing Red Brigades – and seek to emulate their actions and rhetoric. Led by the “dour and ideological” Scarmiglia, they start with arson, but when they imprison a schoolmate, events spin out of control.

Much like his compatriot Niccolò Ammaniti’s 2001 novel I’m Not Scared, Giorgio Vasta’s debut depicts a loss of childhood innocence against the backdrop of Italy’s “years of lead”. These Palermo schoolchildren are fascinated by the Red Brigades’ most notorious act: the then very recent kidnap and murder – in May 1978 – of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro.

Vasta’s take on political material is unusual in focusing on unsettling visual details and clotted prose – the corpse of a feral dog; a length of barbed wire, “reddish, the color of dried blood”. It makes for a dense, fascinating, slightly frustrating read.

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